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Friday, 18 January, 2002, 14:04 GMT
Life after Downing Street
The Blairs during their recent tour of South Asia
Could an international role be in the offing?
By BBC News Online's Ben Davies

The revelation that Tony Blair is thinking about what he will do when he eventually ceases to be prime minister comes as little surprise given his relatively youthful age.

But can the man who led Labour back into power after 18-years in opposition and then secured an historic second landslide last year find something to keep him challenged and occupied once he gives up the reign of power?

Often the problem for past prime ministers is that they have been thrust from power without any chance to plan a future.

Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher: earns big money for her speeches
Margaret Thatcher is a prime example having led the Conservatives to power for the third time in 1987 they ditched her unceremoniously just three years later.

Life has been busy for the former Tory premier since that fateful day in 1990.

As well as becoming a major attraction on the after-dinner circuit commanding vast fees for her talks, Lady Thatcher has written her autobiography, taken her seat in the Lords and repeatedly given her verdict on her successors.

Cricket fan

The man who replaced her as prime minister, John Major, ended his time at Number 10 when he was voted out in 1997.

He left the Commons at the last election and has since dedicated much of his time to one of his burning passions - cricket.

John Major
Mr Major: a passion for cricket
As well as becoming president of Surrey County Cricket Club at The Oval in April 2000 he holds various directorships and is known to hold his own on the after-dinner circuit.

James Callaghan, who resigned as Labour leader in 1980, remained in the Commons until 1987 before being made a life peer.

Similarly Harold Wilson, retained his seat in the Commons until 1983, before being elevated to the Lords.

After he shocked the political world by retiring in 1976 the former Labour prime minister had a brief if unsuccessful career as a chatshow host.

Acting president?

As well as writing several books he was president of the Royal Shakespeare Company for a spell and Chancellor of Bradford University.

Edward Heath on the other hand dedicated his years after Margaret Thatcher wrested control of the Tory Party from him to being an MP.

Harold Wilson
Mr Wilson proved less adept as a chatshow host
He only retired at the last election after becoming the longest serving member with the title 'Father of the House'.

Alex Douglas-Home - who succeeded Harold Macmillan as a Tory prime minister before being ousted by Harold Wilson - is one of the few former premiers to have had a ministerial career after leaving Downing Street.

Between 1970 and 1974 he was foreign secretary.

He also wrote several books including Letters to a Grandson published in 1983.

Mr Blair meanwhile is keeping his thoughts close to his chest.

There is little doubt that he will write an autobiography and take advantage of the lucrative after-dinner circuit like his friend Bill Clinton.

But other than that his future is hard to call.

Some big international job seems possible - some cynics in recent days almost suggested his recent overseas trips were something of an audition for a future role.

Back to the Bar?

Mr Blair's political opponents have already suggested he wants to become the first 'President of Europe' or Secretary General of the United Nations.

Such a move could come soon if he has agreed with his chancellor, Gordon Brown, to stand down in his favour.

He could also be the first ex-prime minister to become a house-husband, choosing a change of pace and taking the lead in young toddler Leo's upbringing.

One thing seems for certain - it is highly unlikely he will return to his former career as a barrister, unless he doesn't mind his career being eclipsed by his wife's.

Whatever he ends up doing he is wise to be thinking about it now because, as his predecessors have found, the loss of Britain's highest office is apt to leave time hanging heavily on a former occupant's hands.

See also:

02 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Blair-Brown 'pact' denied
03 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Labour 'pact' back in spotlight
18 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Blair hints at life after Number 10
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